What can the business world learn from Federer and Nadal?
What can the business world learn from Federer and Nadal?
..the game is so much bigger than winning or losing a particular match or a deal.

Goosebumps. Magic. Grace. Excellence. What a match the greatest tennis player of all time Roger Federer and the runner-up, the man with 14 Grand Slam titles, Rafa Nadal, delivered in the 2017 Australian Open finals. Federer won his 18th Grand Slam in tennis after just coming back from an injury. Ten years after his prime period in a world sport like tennis with tons of talents from all around the world dedicating their lives in order to reach the top. The rush of feelings this match gave us were comparable with the epic event when Sweden won bronze in the 1994 Soccer World Cup. Interesting how sports can pull out emotions like this.

Nadal is definitely in the same group of excellent and classy players as Federer. Just minutes after losing the final he gave the viewers a hint of what kind of character he has. The message he sent Federer, congratulating him, felt honest and sincere. Nadal will use this loss as an inspiration to practice more and smarter. Fantastic words from one champion to another. Federer returned the humble words by saying that a draw would have been more than acceptable for him because of the way Nadal played and the athlete and person he is. To us it felt like many won during and after this final. Federer won. Nadal won. Tennis won. The world won. Hope won. Imagine how much value was created to the younger generation by watching how you play, how you win, and especially how you lose with grace. To not look at a short-term loss as a disaster but learning and inspiration. To become better. These are the examples we would like to embrace in the business world too. To appreciate competition in the world market but realize that the game is so much bigger than winning or losing a particular match or a deal.

Excluding the cheaters (who do exist), sports can fuel energy and inspiration like few other things in life. Looking at this specific match both players used their talents, their 10,000+ hours of practice, their superior mental capability and performed magic and excellence in front of the world stage. It was a match that inspired us and other people far beyond the tennis circuit. True quality creates emotions which cannot be hidden. They competed with grace and they inspired each other to become better players and people. We need that in the business world as well. The companies that bring it all out and dare to let the world use their innovations and patents (eg. Tesla) are some examples of that. We need more. Plenty more.

So, what could the business world learn from these two giants? Many things but we want to highlight three lessons and they all have to do with our drive to achieve.

The first lesson is about the drive to contribute with something that goes beyond ourselves; striving for something bigger than fame or money. All companies need to make profits to continue to play the game of business over time (just as humans need blood cells to survive; John Mackey’s words). But Federer (or any of the greatest) is not playing the game of tennis in order to make as much money as possible. It’s much more for the love of the sport. To use our talent to inspire others to dream big and commit to realize those dreams. Federer and Nadal are role models to people all around the world today, in many fields. This could of course be the case for a businesses too. If we get the intention; our purpose, right.

The second insight is about the drive and will to go the extra mile and strive for excellence and uniqueness. We all need the basics (the technique as well as the processes, the structure etc.) in order to become really good in what we do, but that’s just the base. The foundation to build on. What will define us as individuals and as businesses is the level of commitment we have to seek out opportunities for growth, to try things no one has tried before. To hit a backhand that no one understand.. to use our imagination and release our unique capacities (note how differently Federer and Nadal strike the tennis ball, yet with equally stellar results). Or to continuously seek out innovative products, services, and business models by unleashing the brilliance we have in us and to solve real problems humanity faces. These are things that are sometimes harder to measure than “hard facts” but worth gold. Some businesses get this but we have so many examples when peoples potential are lost because of the massive focus on (usually short-term) numbers and traditional economies of scale. 2017 needs to bring a different set of scaling.

The third lesson is the drive to strive together with others, not against. The origin of word competition gives us a hint of what could be the meaning of business and other fields (which plenty business leaders and certain politicians for sure aren’t living up, not even close.) So, what does the word come from? Well, from a very different place than beating each other. This is how Professor David Light Shields puts it:

Interestingly, the etymology of the word competition (from the Latin, com-petere, meaning “to strive” or “to seek” with) aligns with the contest-as-partnership metaphor.  Competition is a striving with opponents; it is seeking with them.  What is being sought?  Competition is a mutual seeking of excellence through striving to meet or exceed the challenge provided by the opponent.  Competition, when true to its etymology, is designed to serve excellence.

What would Federer be without the competition/companionship of Nadal? Probably not winning his 18th grand slam title at the age of 35.

So here’s to 2017; the year when we - in the spirits of Federer and Nadal - collectively go from ‘me’ to ‘we’ and make 2017 a year of goosebumps, grit, and grace.

Roger that.